7 Natural Ways To Optimize Your Body's Ability To Heal From Lyme Disease
So, despite your best efforts to prevent tick bites, you've somehow contracted Lyme disease. Don't beat yourself up; it happens to the best of us (read all about how my chronic Lyme disease came back even after antibiotics, and how I healed myself naturally).
The good news: Whether you have acute (aka "just-bitten-by-a-tick") Lyme disease or chronic ("lord-only-knows-how-long-you've-had-it") Lyme, there are ways to optimize your body's ability to heal from this debilitating tickborne infection. Here, we asked a variety of respected integrative Lyme practitioners for their top strategies to get over Lyme faster, no matter what stage you're in. The major consensus? A strong immune system can make all the difference in the severity of your symptoms and your ability to heal—and, fortunately, there are a variety of ways to boost your defenses.
"If your immune system is strong, you're going to take care of these [Lyme-causing] microbes," says William Rawls, M.D., integrative physician and author of Unlocking Lyme. "Antibiotics are only as good as your immune system. They can help knock down the number of microbes, which gives the immune system a leg up, but you can't depend on these drugs alone."
To be clear, implementing the strategies below won't necessarily cure you of Lyme—you should still seek out a qualified Lyme-literate practitioner who can get you on a treatment protocol that aligns with your values (e.g., antibiotics, antibiotics and herbs, just herbs, etc.). But making these changes will almost definitely support healthy immune function and detoxification, reduce your symptoms, and help you get more out of your current Lyme treatment so you can heal faster.
(Not sure what you've got? Go back and read our recent article on the acute vs. chronic Lyme to get a feel for the different symptoms and appropriate next steps.)
1. Do a comprehensive elimination diet.
Nearly every Lyme practitioner recommends eating a healthy diet composed mostly of nutrient-dense whole foods. And while that's a great start, it might not go quite far enough.
"I want everybody to eat a diet that agrees with their immune system, and that means eating a diet that agrees with their gut," says Kristin Reihman, M.D., family medicine doctor and author of Life After Lyme (a book that's been a great resource in my own Lyme-healing journey). "That usually means starting with a comprehensive elimination diet to determine what foods actually agree with your gut and which ones are better left out for the duration of your recovery."
Reihman has her Lyme patients follow the Institute of Functional Medicine's comprehensive elimination diet, which involves removing the top most common allergens and pro-inflammatory foods from your diet (e.g., gluten, dairy, soy, corn, peanuts, sugar, alcohol, caffeine, eggs, pork, beef, vegetable oil) for at least 21 days, then slowly reintroducing one food at a time over a three-day period to see if you have any type of adverse reaction. If you do? Keep that food out of your diet for the remainder of your Lyme recovery process.
"Any symptom is an indication that that food doesn't belong on your plate for the duration of your Lyme healing project," says Reihman. "Additionally, I recommend that people don't add back gluten, dairy, sugar, caffeine, or alcohol while they're trying to recover. These can all undermine the immune system through different pathways, impairing your ability to heal."
2. Fill your diet with real whole foods (and lots of veggies).
Modern processed foods can disrupt immune function. So, many functional Lyme experts agree on a whole-foods dietary approach, though their specific protocols may differ slightly.
"I really recommend that people try to get most of their nutrients from whole real foods," says Reihman. "That includes six to eight palm-size servings of leafy greens and otherwise brightly colored vegetables per day, three palm-size servings of some protein, and ample healthy fats and oils such as coconut oil, olive oil, ghee. Ghee is particularly great for healing the gut and empowering the immune system."
Darin Ingels, N.D., naturopathic doctor and author of The Lyme Solution, is also a big fan of a veggie-heavy approach and says his Lyme patients respond particularly well to an anti-inflammatory alkaline diet, which he details in this mbg post. Rawls believes a high-vegetable, low-grain or no-grain diet, such as the paleo diet, is the best choice for long-term maintenance. And mbg Collective member and functional nutrition expert Will Cole, D.C., recently made the case for a plant-heavy ketogenic diet for speeding Lyme recovery.
Bottom line: Nix the processed foods and load up on veggies, and stick to whatever approach works best for you within that framework.
3. Consider these supplements to cover your nutritional bases.
Of course, diet can't always cover all of your bases. So, Reihman recommends that all of her Lyme patients take these four supplements to support immune function and speed Lyme recovery (this is not necessarily everything you should be taking, but it's a good place to start).
- Multimineral: Reihman recommends that everyone, not just people with Lyme, take a multimineral supplement to fuel their detoxification pathways and help cells do their jobs. "Our food supply just doesn't have adequate minerals in it anymore due to our farming practices," she says.
- Probiotic: "A probiotic is really mandatory, especially if you're on any kind of Lyme-killing regimen," she says. "Anything that kills Lyme has a good chance of wiping out your microbiome too, so you want to support the healthy microbes with a probiotic or fermented foods like kimchi." Reihman recommends a refrigerated probiotic with at least three bacterial strains.
- Omega fatty acids: "Unless you're eating cold-water fish and an ample amount of nuts and seeds every day, it's a good idea to take a balanced omega supplement," says Reihman, who recommends something with a healthy 4:1 ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 fatty acids such as BodyBios Balance Oil.
- Vitamin D: Vitamin D is essential for optimizing immune function, and sunlight is your best bet during summer months—aim for 20 minutes of direct sunlight daily before slathering on your sunscreen, suggests Reihman. Otherwise, 2,000 IU of vitamin D per day is adequate for most people.
4. Support your body's natural detoxification pathways.
When you're on some sort of Lyme treatment protocol—be it antibiotics or herbal supplements—you are actively killing off Lyme microbes, and these dead microbes can release toxins in the body. Sometimes, antibiotics or other treatments can actually kill off microbes faster than your body can process and eliminate them, which is why you want to be sure you're supporting your body's natural detoxification pathways. Here are some tips from Reihman to help your body detox more efficiently:
- Incorporate a good binder into your supplement routine that will "suck up" toxins and help you eliminate them faster, like chlorella, bentonite clay, or activated charcoal (use these under the guidance of your doctor).
- Exercise, use a sauna, or doing anything that will make you sweat, which is great for both detoxing and empowering the immune system. (Pro tip: With saunas, make sure you're wiping off your sweat and putting those used towels into a sealed baggy when you're done so the toxins you eliminate don't get re-aerosolized.)
- Make sure you're pooping daily. If you're not, load up on fiber-rich veggies, try a magnesium citrate supplement, or implement one of these other constipation remedies.
- Drink plenty of water. Convert your weight into kilograms, and that's about how many ounces of water you need at a baseline.
- Take regular Epsom salt baths.
- Sleep, sleep, sleep.
5. Move your body every day—but don't overdo it.
Exercise, even if minimal, is recommended when you're healing from Lyme. That's because blood flow is essential for healing to occur, helping deliver oxygen and vital nutrients to your extremities and remove toxic by-products from the body, says Rawls. It also boosts your endorphin levels, which is important for controlling pain. Just be sure you don't overdo it, as intense exercise can act as an unhealthy stressor on the body and set you back in your recovery process. Aim for gentle, restorative exercises every day (sprinkled throughout the day, if possible). Stretching, walking, yoga, tai chi, or swimming could be great options if you experience fatigue, pain, or poor coordination as symptoms of your Lyme disease.
6. Find ways to counter stress, like tapping.
"When the body exists in a constant state of alert, all of its systems—especially immune system functions—become overly taxed," says Rawls, adding that stress can often be the cause of a Lyme setback.
While we can't necessarily eliminate stress from our lives, we can counter its effects with practices such as regular meditation, yoga, walking, and—one of Reihman's favorite techniques—tapping, which seems to help regulate the nervous system and calm the fight-or-flight response.
"Tapping is one of my favorite tools," says Reihman. "We don't really know everything about how it works, but there's something about the back-and-forth stimulation of the body that lulls the brain into complacency as you take out some deeply held emotional trash that's not serving you." (For more information on how to perform tapping, check out this post.)
7. Prioritize sleep—or all the tips above will be useless.
"Sleep is mandatory," says Reihman. "You could be doing everything else 'right,' but if you're not sleeping enough, you're not actually giving your body the chance it needs to detoxify properly or empower your immune system—both of which are activities that happen mostly at night."
The key: Making sure you're sleeping as many hours as your body needs to feel rested and wake up on its own without an alarm.
"I don't just mean you should get eight hours and call it a day," says Reihman. "You need to get in bed when you're tired and sleep until your body naturally wakes up. And if you're someone who struggles with insomnia, that might mean you need to nap during the day or to take a supplement like melatonin to get in adequate rest."